October is almost done! Whoda thunk it?
When I was very little, before I could swim, my dad used to play a game with us in the pools at the hotels we’d stay at for vacations. We would hang on tight to the walls of the pool and move ourselves along the perimeter in the water while our dad stood behind us, ready to catch us in case one of us slipped in. Despite being in the water we weren’t swimming, just clinging to the edge of the pool and moving ourselves slowly by sliding our hands and pressing our feet against the walls and moving ourselves. We called it playing Spiderman after my sister and I had watched some of the old 60s cartoons and pretended we were climbing the walls like he was.
I remember we were at a hotel in Peterborough and I was playing the game with my dad, my sister was drying off with our mom by one of the tables in the pool area. I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t swim, convinced that I was old enough to do it even if I didn’t know how. Certain that I could climb around the pool faster if only my dad would let me.
I was making my slow progress around the pool with my dad behind me when someone started talking to him. I couldn’t see who, I was too young to see past the blue wall of the pool, and even still the person is a stranger. My dad has a face people want to talk to, a face people want to dump all their secrets on. That’s what this person was doing and I got more frustrated as my dad moved beside me to talk to the person at the side of the pool instead of play the Spiderman game.
So I got bold. I decided I would move an inch without my dad behind me to prove that I could do this by myself, that I was ready to swim. He was still talking and in my head I would end up doing my climb around the perimeter and surprise him by showing up on his other side as proof of my grownupness. I moved my little foot in the water and let go of the wall with one hand when my foot missed the grip of the wall and I fell into the water.
Drowning isn’t loud like on TV, it isn’t a splash and a scream and pointing. Drowning is silent. It’s a slip under the water, holding one’s breath, something so subtle and it’s easy to miss. I wasn’t drowning yet, but I remember kicking so hard in the water trying to keep my head up even though I kept bobbing down. I got the idea to use one of my hands as another pedal but didn’t know how to get it back up in the air. I was under the water now, and I must have held my breath because I don’t remember the chlorine stinging my nostrils or hurting my throat, I just remember that my eyes were open, that I could see the fuzzy blue bottom and that I liked the colour of it.
Here’s another thing about drowning, it’s fast. All of that which happened above occurred in maybe a minute, more likely under. Finally my legs were too tired to keep moving and I just stopped. Stopped kicking, stopped fighting and let myself sink. I didn’t know what death was, the only thing I could think was how would my parents ever find me at the bottom of the pool.
I felt my right hand finally slip below the water when suddenly it was yanked up again, along with the rest of me and into my dad’s arms.
I don’t remember what happened after that, if I was in trouble or if I cried. When my sister and I talk about it now she tells me how she saw my hand slip over and our dad pull me out. Before that she hadn’t realized I’d slipped into the water either.
Drowning is fast.